A Season with Toronto: To Open, in the Rain…

Soccer Features
A Season with Toronto: To Open, in the Rain…

For a long time, the easiest way to tell if Toronto FC had a home game was to check the weather. Are the skies greyish greenish black? Are the streets slick with 48 straight hours of rain? Does the city resemble something out of a Raymond Chandler novel? And most importantly—is there a break in the weather expected the next day?

Chances are there’s a game at BMO Field.

Toronto FC’s home opener against Sporting Kansas City this past Friday night stayed true to form.

Yes, TFC’s shitty weather cliche has lost a little of its sheen in recent years—last season saw some gorgeous weather matches at BMO Field, TFC’s IKEA stadium situated at the foot of Lake Ontario.

But the bleak skies still define the club, especially after Toronto’s implausible second leg MLS Cup semifinal victory against Montreal last November when sheets of rain, illuminated by the floodlights, poured down as Nick Hagglund headed away the key goal from a corner.

It looks good on the team now anyway, and the players don’t seem to mind. After the game ended nil-nil, TFC defender Drew Moor stood in the locker room grinning like a game show when asked about the conditions—they couldn’t have been better.

Me, I had my doubts—the finishing from both sides throughout was noticeably poor throughout. But there were no embarrassing slips, no splashing about in touchline puddles. Like the barely perceptible white pitch lines erased in the rain, the climate was mostly invisible.

Friday, in fact, was the perfect home opener on a number of fronts, and not just the one that brought all the moisture off the lake.

For one, there was little triumphalism from MLSE after last years’ historic MLS Cup run, no unsavoury marketing gimmicks or gaudy tifo, save for the long-winded message on the pre-kickoff banner raised in the south stand that read: “With heartbreak comes a new beginning, a new opportunity.” A few players took their kids out on the pitch for the anthems. It all seemed so normal…intimate even.

As for the match, some of the rust from last week’s international break showed, though I thought Michael Bradley looked in the best form he had all season in the first half before fatigue set in for the second. Sporting’s press was effective in hemming Toronto in their own half, and the visitors looked good at times for all three points, particularly as KC’s technically gifted number 7 Gerso Fernandes closed in on the right flank in attack.

Toronto too had their chances but still look jumbled when it comes to the decisive final ball—it didn’t help that Canadian Jonathan Osorio sent a couple of delicious setups in the box into low orbit.

Another Canadian, the 21 year old Raheem Edwards of Toronto, was impressive if maybe a little mechanical on his first start, though he did earn one audacious turn to beat the SKC full back in the first half. He will only improve or time, or he won’t.

In all, the game was a good demonstration of Toronto FC’s promise and weaknesses. The team are still weirdly hesitant to work the ball through the middle. Tosaint Ricketts has some good zip but is starting to look a little one note. Sebastian Giovinco is still the team’s most gifted player but is sometimes too easily taken out of the play.

The team’s brightest lights right now stand in the backline, which may be why Moor was the only TFC player smiling after the game. Nick Hagglund looks vastly more assured when not tasked with running up the flank, and Moor and Eriq Zavaleta are both interchangeable and invisible—a good sign. TFC keeper Clint Irwin’s subbing off in the 40th minute with an injury caused barely a ripple.

As Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney remarked after the match, the teams that win in MLS are those that defend well. Attack is about patience, about finding those imperceptible rhythms, like a self-choreographing dance, a fine balance between holding up and darting in behind. Defense however is either there or it isn’t, and right now it’s there.

For now, as TFC emerge from March tied for the second fewest goals conceded in the league, that’s good enough.

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